Ryan Pulock

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Key defensemen enter contract years, possible free agency

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Despite being the most exciting offseason since PHT started in 2010, the NHL will probably always lag behind the NBA when it comes to stars moving in free agency.

Rudely, players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid don’t even flirt with drama, instead sticking with their teams by signing extensions, often almost at the first possible moment they legally can. Again, rude.

So, it’s important to get that disclaimer out of the way. Chances are, the fascinatingly robust list of pending free agent defensemen will narrow down, possibly starting before the 2019-20 season begins.

But, even so, it’s quite the list, and a lot of these defensemen will earn enormous, team-changing raises, whenever their next deals get signed.

And, hey, sticking with your team can still alter its course. Just look at how scary that Drew Doughty extension ($11 million AAV through 2026-27) seems today compared to when Doughty re-upped with the Kings in July 2018.

Let’s consider some of the most intriguing names, split by UFA and RFA designations. Cap Friendly’s listings were helpful in putting this together, and being that these lists aren’t comprehensive, you may enjoy digging deeper there to find even more.

Prominent UFAs

Alex Pietrangelo (Blues), Roman Josi (Predators), Tyson Barrie (Maple Leafs), Torey Krug (Bruins), Jared Spurgeon (Wild, more on them here), Justin Faulk (Hurricanes), Jake Muzzin (Maple Leafs), Justin Schultz (Penguins), Christopher Tanev (Canucks), T.J. Brodie (Flames), Sami Vatanen (Devils), Travis Hamonic (Flames).

The headliners of this list – particularly Pietrangelo and Josi – must have licked their chops when Erik Karlsson signed that mammoth eight year, $92M ($11.5M AAV) contract with the Sharks. Pietrangelo and Josi don’t boast multiple Norris Trophies, yet they might also be healthier than Karlsson when he signed his deal, so there could be interesting value debates.

Either way, Roman Josi’s borderline-insulting $4M won’t cut it after 2019-20.

The marquee names are the most intriguing, yet there are interesting situations as you go down a rung and more. And those are the players who are arguably more likely to sign with new teams.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Would Toronto be able to bring back even one of Barrie or Muzzin after next season? Are the Hurricanes destined to move on from Faulk, or would they instead keep Faulk and move someone else, like Dougie Hamilton? Players like Faulk, Schultz, and Vatanen could see their value shift in big ways depending upon how well or poorly they perform in 2019-20. Will P.K. Subban‘s arrival hurt Vatanen, or will the former Ducks defenseman thrive in a more relaxed role next season for New Jersey?

There are a lot of intriguing situations to watch there.

Notable RFAs

Josh Morrissey (Jets), Thomas Chabot (Senators), Samuel Girard (Avalanche), Mikhail Sergachev (Lightning), Ryan Pulock (Islanders), Darnell Nurse (Oilers), Brandon Montour (Sabres), etc.

These players don’t have the same leverage as they’re restricted, but it should still be interesting if there’s a ripple effect when the Jets have to pay Morrissey, and how strenuous negotiations could be between Chabot and the penny-pinching Senators. Tampa Bay’s really brought Sergachev along slowly, and you wonder if they’d be wise to try to extend him before a potential breakthrough?

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Again, extensions will kill some of the wildest daydreams by crossing names off the list long before July 2020. Don’t assume your team will happen upon a Pietrangelo or Spurgeon.

That said, there are certain “something has to give” situations. The Maple Leafs may know that they’re only getting Muzzin and Barrie for a limited time. The Bruins have a tight squeeze happening, especially with Charlie McAvoy still needing an RFA deal this summer.

Either way, teams should savor deals like Josi at $4M, because they won’t last much longer.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hurricanes rally around injuries, take 2-0 series lead vs. Islanders

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It’s almost as if adversity galvanizes the Carolina Hurricanes, with every blow bringing the team closer together in their fight for the Stanley Cup.

These particular playoffs — their first in a decade — haven’t been kind to the Hurricanes, who entered the game already without Andrei Svechnikov, Micheal Ferland and Jordan Martinook. Injuries didn’t halt their progress in Round 1, winning a seven-game series against the Washington Capitals despite missing some key pieces.

And while three more names were added to that growing list — queue up that one Drowning Pool song — Carolina banded together to come from behind as they took a 2-0 Round 2 series lead against the New York Islanders after a 2-1 win on Sunday.

“It’s not easy, that’s for sure, because you’re asking a lot of guys that are out of their comfort zone and doing things they don’t normally do,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’amour said following the game. “But that’s playoffs, that’s part of it. It is a war of attrition a lot of times in the playoffs. We’ve just got to figure it out.”

Trevor van Riemsdyk was gone just 36 seconds into the game and Petr Mrazek followed suit in the second period as he slid from across his crease on an apparent non-contact injury. Saku Maenalanen was the third body to hit the trainer’s table, with his injury happening in the third period after providing a big assist.

“That’s tough, but hopefully those guys will heal up quickly,” Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. “But we’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t been playing that are ready to step in and do their job.”

That’s six injuries and a 2-0 series lead heading back to Raleigh, with a much needed extra day off in between.

Carolina’s ability to deal with the ebbs and flows of a game is remarkable at this point.

Sunday’s game was tight through two periods the Islanders took a 1-0 lead from Mathew Barzal on the power play, New York’s first goal on the man-advantage in their past 10 tries.

In the second, before Mrazek was replaced by Curtis McElhinney, the Hurricanes failed to produce on an extended 5-on-3. Mrazek’s injury soon after must have felt like a kick to the ribs while they were already lying on the floor.

But somewhere between there and the beginning of the third, Carolina regrouped.

Warren Foegele‘s fifth came just 17 seconds into the period to tie the game and the Hurricanes had a 2-1 lead just 48 seconds later when Nino Niederreiter put the perfect tip on a point shot for his first of the playoffs.

“Leadership in that room,” Brind’amour said. “It’s simple. Jordan Staal. Justin Williams. Jaccob Slavin. Those are our best players every night. They’re leading a group and they don’t have a choice but to follow these guys.”

Brind’Amour figured Mrazek’s injury was similar to the one he picked up back in November, one that forced him to miss a month of action. Yikes.

McElhinney proved to be a formidable backup. He had just 82 minutes of playoff experience heading into this game but he was up to the task, making 17 saves in relief.

One wonders how long the Hurricanes can be without such a large contingent of their roster. Game 3 could conceivably look like the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina’s Amerian Hockey League affiliate) are getting a game in the playoffs depending on the severity of the ailments. And the Islanders had their chances in the third, with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Pulock both hitting he crossbar and Anders Lee narrowly missing an open net on Pulock’s rebound.

For now, however, we’ll continue to believe that the Hurricanes can manage in some of the most unappealing situations. They’ve done it so far. Why doubt them?

Game 3 goes Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN from PNC Arena. 


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Staal’s OT goal lifts Hurricanes to Game 1 win over Islanders

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After scoring the game-tying goal in the third period of their Game 7 win in Round 1, Jordan Staal scored another massive goal for the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night when he scored at the 4:04 mark of overtime to lift his team to a 1-0 win over the New York Islanders, giving them an early 1-0 lead in the series.

It is Staal’s fourth goal of the playoffs and capped off a defensive slugfest that was highlighted by great goaltending, close calls, and a couple of premature celebrations for Islanders fans that probably only added to their frustration in the loss.

Maybe it was just a feeling out process between two teams that are new to this stage.

Or maybe it was the result of the Islanders still shaking off the rust from a week-long layoff and the Hurricanes still trying to come down from a double overtime Game 7 in Washington.

Or perhaps it was simply the play of goalies Robin Lehner and Petr Mrazek (or more accurately a combination of all three factors), but offense was nearly impossible to come by on Friday night.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Both goalies made stunning stops on breakaways, with Mrazek making a beautiful glove save to rob Josh Bailey in the first period, and Lehner stoning Greg McKegg in the second period with a sprawling toe save. 

The Islanders had two other close calls throughout the night.

In the second period, Mathew Barzal appeared to score when he deposited the puck into an open net only to have it immediately called back because of a goaltender interference penalty on Anders Lee, even though Lee appeared to be shoved into Mrazek by Carolina’s Lucas Wallmark.

With under six minutes to play in regulation, Ryan Pulock blasted a one-timer that sounded the goal horn at the Barclays Center and ignited the crowd, only for everyone to realize the puck did not actually go in, but was instead lodged on the outside of the net.

They never really came close to scoring after that.

After sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1, this is the Islanders’ first loss of the 2019 playoffs.

Game 2 of Hurricanes-Islanders will take place on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Hurricanes changing hockey culture; What’s going on with Bruins?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Here’s today’s NBC Sports Stanley Cup playoff update for April 19

• The Team USA roster for the World Hockey Championship is loaded with superstars like Patrick Kane. (NBC Olympics)

• The Toronto Maple Leafs should consider using their best players on their struggling penalty kill. (The Hockey News)

• No one seemed to know what was wrong with the Bruins heading into Game 4 against Toronto. (Yahoo)

• The Flames have to figure out how to put this fire out or they’ll be going home early. (Sportsnet)

• The Stars aren’t known for their defensive prowess, but they’ve improved in that area. (The Point)

• Find out how the Hurricanes changed the hockey culture in Carolina. (ESPN)

• Columbus waited a while to see their team win a playoff round, but it was totally worth it. (1st Ohio Battery)

• Pens GM Jim Rutherford is going to try to find some added chemistry with his roster going into next season. (Pittsburgh Tribune)

• How will Todd McLellan’s experience behind the bench with San Jose impact what he can do with the Los Angeles Kings. (Jewels from the Crown)

• McLellan knows that the Kings’ immediate future isn’t necessarily bright. There’s a lot of work for him to do. (LA Times)

• The Flyers wanted Joel Quenneville, but they did just fine by hiring Alain Vigneault. (NBC Sports Philly)

• Isles defenseman Ryan Pulock‘s journey to the NHL was fuelled by tragedy. (Sports Illustrated)

• Speaking of the Isles, their GM, Lou Lamoriello, finally admitted that his team isn’t better off without John Tavares. (TSN)

• What are the New Jersey Devils’ off-season needs? (All About the Jersey)

• The Oilers will have to get creative if they want to create salary cap space this summer. (Oilers Nation)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Islanders continue to have all the answers, take 3-0 series lead vs. Penguins

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The New York Islanders took a commanding 3-0 series lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins with a 4-1 victory Sunday afternoon at PPG Paints Arena

Once again, the Penguins had no answers for the Islanders, who displayed yet another strong defensive effort, controlled possession, and kept the high-danger chances low. New York also kept Pittsburgh’s stars quiet as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Jake Guentzel combined for zero points. The last time Crosby went pointless in three straight playoff games in the 2016 Eastern Conference Final.

When the Penguins thought they had an advantage — following Garrett Wilson‘s goal 12:54 into the first period for a 1-0 lead — the Islanders answered right back. Jordan Eberle continued his productive postseason by scoring his third goal of the series on a lovely shot following a fantastic feed from Ryan Pulock.

“We’ve got to do a better job of hanging onto the momentum when we get it,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said afterward.

Eberle is now the third Islanders players in since 1994 to score in three straight playoff games, joining Kyle Okposo (2013) and Kip Miller (2002).

[2019 NBC STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS HUB]

The home crowd was silent, and then the anxiety grew 62 seconds later when Brock Nelson gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead.

Finding themselves trailing in another game this series, the Penguins, as they did in the previous two games, could not generate enough to test Lehner and threaten any sort of comeback. Leo Komarov‘s goal midway through the third period put the game out of reach and helped the Islanders improve to 41-2-2 when scoring at least three times this season.

The Islanders will go for the sweep in Game 4 on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

MORE: Penguins look lost, broken against Islanders

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.